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Exodus 1:8 - 2:10 – Pharaoh's Rage, Women's Care

Summary

An unnamed pharaoh, fearing the growth of Israel, lurches from one futile policy to another. Women thwart his intention at every turn.

Analysis

After the memory of Joseph no longer provides a protective shield for Israel, Israel's conditions in Egypt change markedly. The blessing to multiply carries over from Genesis, but the blessing is countered by the threat it poses to Pharaoh. He is beset with fear that they pose a security threat. To counter the threat of their joining an invading enemy, he seeks to limit their vitality by working them into exhaustion. But the tactic backfires. Their numbers increase and they become a dread to the Egyptians. Pharaoh looks silly. Yet, while the narrative may be mocking Pharaoh, a serious side remains; Israel's plight is becoming entrenched and is deepening.

 

In his next attempt to control Israel's population, Pharaoh orders that all the male children of the Hebrews (an infrequent designation for Israelites) be killed by the midwives. The policy is foolish at a number of levels. Killing the females would be a more effective way to limit the population. Second, in the long run, Pharaoh would diminish his labor pool for heavy construction work. Pharaoh's policy is undercut by the midwives who defend their action to Pharaoh by claiming that the Hebrew women are so vigorous that they give birth before the midwives can arrive. Pharaoh again looks silly, hardly an image of royal control.

 

Finally, Pharaoh orders that every male child that is born be thrown into the Nile. In the Hebrew text he fails to restrict the order to the Israelites. Defiance of his order comes from within his own household as his daughter takes Moses out of the river into Pharaoh's own household. At this point the reader does not know the future role of Moses, but on second reading every reader recognizes that Pharaoh is subverted from within his own household. Again, he hardly looks like a sovereign who is in royal control. Once again, the text subtly mocks the Egyptian ruler even as the threat to Israel and God's promises remains in place.

 

Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

The Israelites Are Oppressed

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ 20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews* you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’

Birth and Youth of Moses

2Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ 8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,* ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out* of the water.’

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10 February 2011

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